In a first for Aotearoa New Zealand, a population-based eye health survey is expected to improve access to eye care services for everyone.
Researchers from the University of Auckland have been awarded a NZ$1.2million project grant from the Health Research Council (HRC) for a three-year project that includes the survey.
After six months, the researchers will measure how many people were able to access this care, whether they faced any challenges, and what impact this care has had on their wellbeing
The overarching aim of the multi-disciplinary project is to promote healthy ageing in New Zealand, with a focus on improving access to health services for people living with eye, hearing, or foot problems, particularly if they also have diabetes.
Led by Associate Professor Jacqueline Ramke, from the School of Optometry and Vision Science at The University of Auckland, the project brings researchers together with clinical expertise in audiology, podiatry, primary care, and diabetic medicine, as well as methodological expertise in Kaupapa Māori research, epidemiology and biostatistics. The research team will work closely with communities, service providers, professional associations, and training institutions. At its completion, the survey will provide robust estimates of the number of adults in New Zealand who are living with diabetes, eye, ear, and foot problems. For those who require treatment, it will also build understanding on how accessible health services are.
The survey is expected to take nine to 12 months to complete and will commence in the second half of 2023. With a strong focus on equity, the study design will allow researchers to estimate all outcomes for Māori separately to non-Māori, with ongoing fundraising aiming to add Pacific people as a third population group.
“Currently, Aotearoa has little information on the prevalence and causes of vision loss. This evidence gap makes it difficult to plan and deliver eye health services that are accessible for everyone,” said Associate Professor Ramke. “I’m excited that this project is a collaboration between primary and allied health providers and represents an opportunity to promote whānau-centred care that is better integrated into the health system.”
The researchers aim to recruit approximately1,600 Māori aged ≥40 years, and ~3,000 non-Māori aged ≥50 years across Northland, South Auckland, Tairāwhiti and Rotorua. These targets reflect the anticipated vision impairment among Māori and non-Māori, and the younger age criteria for Māori reflects their earlier onset of sensory health conditions compared to non-Māori. Recruited participants will receive testing of their diabetes, vision, hearing, and foot health, and will be asked about their general health and wellbeing. People who need further testing or treatment will be referred to the health services they need. After six months, the researchers will measure how many people were able to access this care, whether they faced any challenges, and what impact this care has had on their wellbeing.
The three-year project will commence in late 2022. Prior to the survey commencing in 2023, researchers will engage with communities and service providers in each study region to explore the provision of diabetes, eye, hearing, and foot services. The team will take survey findings back to communities and service providers to help identify service factors that promoted or inhibited access and to recommend how to improve access and outcomes.
In addition to the HRC funding, the project has attracted co-funding from Blind Low Vision NZ, NZAO, and the Buchanan Charitable Foundation, as well as an in-kind contribution from Te Tohu Paetahi Tikanga Rangatira aa-Tapuhi (Bachelor of Nursing Māori) Manukau Institute of Technology. This work is part of a wider programme of work to improve access to eye care services for all New Zealanders.